Stephen Nichols: We are joined again by Dr. Sinclair Ferguson. Let’s get into your new book, In the Year of Our Lord: Reflections on Twenty Centuries of Church History. Your chapter on the sixth century is titled “Christianity in Scotland.” Now, it doesn’t surprise me at all that you’re talking about Scotland. So, help us learn a little bit about the history of the church in Scotland. You mention two people, Ninian and Columba.
Sinclair Ferguson: Yes, the truth is that the story of how the gospel came to Scotland is somewhat mysterious. These two figures, who are probably the most significant, have tended to be shrouded in mythology. With many figures from the beginnings of what we sometimes call the Dark Ages, you have put all the material into a sieve, shake it, and try to get down to the roots of the matter. What was true of both of these men? Both of these men were, I think, what we might call “monk-evangelists.”
One of the things I say in the book is that our people with regenerated hearts sometimes have quite confused heads. In this period, you sense that there was not the understanding of the gospel that we should desire. People were not as well taught then as we have been in the twenty-first century regarding the gospel. But, here we have two individuals in the sixth century who, in a sense, gave everything they had to try to establish gospel-centered communities.
Although Protestants are not usually very enthusiastic about monks, these were monks whose passion and prayer were for the spread of the gospel in Scotland. Their tactic was very interesting. They created, in a sense, little missionary compounds. They were concerned to bring the gospel throughout Scotland, so they traveled very widely. In many ways, Scotland owes a very great deal spiritually both to Ninian and to Columba.
SN: The point you’re making is that they were not withdrawn monks, nor were they establishing monastic enclaves. They were right in the midst of people’s lives. You mentioned that sometimes we seek to build our churches next to an interstate or somewhere convenient to get to but not necessarily in the midst of a neighborhood.
SF: Yes, it’s very interesting. I think in evangelicalism we tend to despise all monks, and we throw Ninian and Columba in with them. Meanwhile, we locate ourselves, as churches, outside of the communities to which we belong, while their evangelistic thrust was to take their community to places where the gospel had not been established. In that sense, you might say, their passion was fairly Apostolic. They traveled in small groups, like the Apostle Paul with some of his companions, and sought to be instruments of Christ, in building the church in specific locations. In that sense, I think they’re a great example to us.
SN: You have a great line at the end of this chapter, where you say: “These missionary-monks were willing to go anywhere and do anything simply because Christ had called them. We need to be willing to do that.”
SF: Yes, it’s such a challenge to us, actually, in the twenty-first century.
SN: Thank you Dr. Ferguson, for lifting our eyes off of the horizon of the twenty-first century and putting them back on our past, specifically on the sixth century. Grateful for this new book and grateful for you.
SF: Thank you. It’s been great to be with you again.